Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Final Post

If 1984 was re-written to be 2084 I strongly suspect that 'Big Brother is watching you' would be changed to 'Big Business is watching you' or perhaps just 'We are watching you.' After reading Andrejevic it is hard not to imagine a future where the big information and technology businesses, secure in the fortified Googleplex HQ will monitor the generation of an entire world worth of information in real time, all the while supplying the government with information it might require. How could real freedom exist in such a system?

This is a bleak outlook, and not the only possible future, but it is disconcerting how far we have already gone down this road without even noticing. How much farther will we get before enough people notice that change is possible? The college I work for just switched over to Google Apps to handle all our e-mail and communication needs on campus - all students, faculty, staff and administration are now on Gmail all day every day. I wonder if the people in the upper echelon even stopped to consider the possible implications of it - more likely they are unaware of them all together.

Sorry for the burst of dystopia, a lot of what we discuss brings it out in me. There is always a chance that it will all work out. That Google and others will use their powers for good and not evil, right?

Is the fact that this is the second time I have referenced 1984 in these discussions indicative of something?

I very much enjoyed my time in this class. I will admit that I felt a little out of my depth at times, but overall I think that I was given a great deal to think about and the things I have read and discussed here will influence the rest of my time in grad school and, hopefully, my career. I think that overall, the modules I appreciated the most, the ones that I think I got the most out of in practical terms, were 3 and 4 dealing with copyright laws. I learned a lot about a subject that I had been previously ignorant of and that is very relevant to my future goals. If I had to pick a favorite discussion though, including my personal favorite post, it would be the WikiLeaks module. It was a perfect and timely way to examine so much of what we had discussed and learned about in class and it brought up a lot of complex feelings and ideas. Much like this course as a whole.

Thanks for a great semester everyone and happy holidays.

Last Week

While reading Andrejevic’s article (or rather skimming it after I saw the word “ubiquitous” a handful of times), I was surprised at how much Big Brother is watching. The story of his friend with the DVD in Australia was a bit scary in that the computer knew where the friend was and wouldn’t play parts of the DVD. Why not? Does Australia have restrictions on their information? In some ways, it is nice because then the news that people receive can be tailored to where that person is. In other ways, I don’t like that people know what I’m looking at online (not that I have anything to hide, but that it is none of their business). But see, there we go again. If a terrorist is looking at information, wouldn’t we want to know it so we can stop him before he kills anyone? So, I guess it’s a fine line there on whether to allow this or not.

My favorite topic would have to be the Challenged and Banned books topic. I felt that this topic was the most relevant to my library work. I wasn’t too impressed with the Wikileaks discussion as I felt that he had no right to post any of the information he did. I’m almost glad that he’s been caught and put into jail. I had a feeling about him and it wasn’t good and the fact that he ran and tried to hide from authorities just helps to make it so. But that’s just my opinion…..

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

its been a trip

Everything in moderation…

It’s a maxim we learned as children…to be observant and circumspect of excess. Like my classmates, I’m often concerned about the seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent nature of electronic surveillance. But then I remember that the computer…the Internet…is just a tool (albeit a culturally significant tool…). And when one realizes the ease at which a step back can be taken, and how the scene widens with a little distance, one can possibly realize then too that it is a tool we wield. I would argue that the Internet does not control us…but that we control it. If become concerned with the availability of personal information - like buying habits, topics of interest, relationship status, etc – then we have wandered into the realm of observation and understanding. We can moderate what we provide – there is no rule stating otherwise. You know me as Tecumseh – a name that I’ve never used on the Internet before – and a name I will never use again. And though I’m a bit more suspicious than some, there is a rebelliously empowering feeling one gets by relying on cash rather than credit – on the postal service rather than Google – in an attempt to tread lightly without leaving behind a trial. The power has always been with us.

I learned a lot and was enticed to venture out of my ‘comfort zone’ by many of your posts and responses. One thing about a blog I find interesting is the ability to retrace one’s steps and relive specific topics. I look forward to re-reading the posts, this time backwards - from most recent to the very first. Its been a trip! thanks

Monday, December 6, 2010

Well, what do you know...

I thought my previous post was my last. Lo and behold, I was doing some headline scanning and found this post on the FTC's proposed online privacy plan.

Week 14: The Final Post

Reading Andrejevic's article "Surveillance in the Digital Enclosure" was a really detailed look at how we consumers unwittingly submit our personal and shopping preferences to companies. It reminds me of an old Windows XP guide I was paging through over Thanksgiving break. The guide clearly said to feel free to lie when filling out the online registration form for your Microsoft Passport software; let Microsoft learn about your personal information through mailing lists, like the credit card companies do. Also, while it's really handy for Windows Media Player to find your CD cover album art and song information, it is also reporting what music you're listening to. That guide was written in 2004, this article in 2007, and I still think few internet users really, truly know what information is being shared behind their backs. From Facebook profile content to the data your camera stores on every digital photo you snap, there is information being recorded that you don't even know about.

Andrejevic's article discusses the frightening possibility of Microsoft searching through computer hard drives in order to determine how best to advertise to the computer's user: "The software could conceivably gather information on every file on a user’s hard drive and send it to advertisers, and the application does
little to assuage security and privacy concerns" (Hoover, 2007). Now that it's 2010, I wonder if programs like this are in place. Perhaps they are. And that's unsettling. As we have studied during these 14 weeks, we librarians should advocate for privacy and confidentiality in today's technology. It feels like we need to make a stronger push for change.

This semester, my favorite module is when we learned about sampling in week 4. I really enjoyed the Youtube video about the Amen Break sound clip; I've added it to my Youtube favorites. My favorite blog post was also the one I wrote for week 4. That was quite an inspiring week.

Thanks for a lovely semester. I will miss reading everyone's new posts each week and learning about a new, exciting topic each week.


The Andrejevic article made some interesting points. However, I couldn't help but wonder if I might have gotten more out of it if I was more up on my Marx. The central point I took away from the article is that many of the applications and services on the web that many of us have come to expect to use for free, aren't really free at all but come at the cost of us surrendering some of our personal data. This isn't a surprise to me, and I find it hard to get overly upset about this type of transaction. After all the companies that develop applications and are making massive R&D investments in computing and networks must recoup these expenses somehow. If we were to pay a true market cost for some of these services, I'm not sure many of us would think it to be affordable. For example, none of us had to pay a subscription fee to use Blogger this semester, even though the costs to Google (i.e. hosting, tech support, etc.) to maintain Blogger are not insignificant (well maybe to Google they are). For now, at least, I think the trade-off is a worthwhile, though slightly worrisome, one.

For anyone interested in a dystopian vision of where "ubiquitous computing" may be headed in the future, I strongly recommend the book Feed by the excellent YA author M.T. Anderson. It imagines a world where humans have a device implanted in their heads that allow them to have the Internet in their field of vision 24/7. It is a nightmarish book and Anderson makes some startling points about the Internet and the commercialism it has become associated with.

It's hard to pick out a favorite unit because I found the subject matter every week to be engaging and contemporary. The units on copyright were particularly interesting for me being a long time music geek. It was nice to take a peek behind the curtains and to think about the ways in which copyright can negatively impact artistic expression.

However, I have to say that the WikiLeaks unit could not have been better timed and I've found myself swept up in the ongoing drama surrounding WikiLeaks these past couple of weeks. As an aside, does anyone else think it strange that this leak of diplomatic cables brought far greater blow back than did the Iraq or Afghanistan document dumps? Since Cablegate, WikiLeaks has suffered DoS attacks, been chased from Amazon's servers (at the apparent request of Joe Lieberman) their bank accounts in Switzerland have been frozen and some on the right (Sarah Palin & Newt Gingrich in particular) have called for the US to treat Assange as an "enemy combatant." I find this to be slightly curious.

Also, in relation to WikiLeaks, and tangentially related to our topic this week of the shifting notions of privacy in our digitally connected world, did anyone else see that Colombia University's School of International and Public Affairs warned its students not to discuss WikiLeaks on social networks, such as, Twitter or Facebook. Apparently, the concern was that doing so may impact students' prospects for government jobs. Colombia has since walked back that advice, but my initial thought when I saw the story was, "I hope no one in class has an application pending with the State Department."

For those interested here's the link:

My favorite post was Barriers to Access. Because I got to use the words defecate and micturate.

Good night, good luck, Happy Holidays. It has been a pleasure to discuss these topics with everyone.

Wrapping Up

I agree with my other classmates thus far about Andrejevic, this issue doesn't seem like such a big deal. Giving up something like my shopping history to Amazon doesn't bother me at all. I just do not believe they would ever do anything malicious with it, for one it'd be bad business for them to do such things and for two I just doubt they care for me as an individual beyond my buying power. In fact I find it helpful, just today I was doing a chunk of Christmas shopping and found recommendations for other things to purchase very helpful. I suppose it's someone who is looking out for us all, but even for me as someone who is mildly paranoid about my internet privacy, I like the advances in cloud technology and other things and to give up a bit of info about me to make it better seems a good trade off.

Having someone looking out for us relates well to my favorite part of the class, WikiLeaks. I was surprised how interested and yet interested I was in it. On one hand, it seems very important, but since it's just a big fat dump of information without any good organization I can't get excited about sifting through it. That said, following the story that has been developing recently has been very interesting to me. I just read today how Amazon and Paypal have cut off WikiLeaks, things certainly are changing at a rapid pace.

T-Voh and 1984 - The Last Post!

[sarcasm] Oh the wonders of technology…thank goodness that a company keeps track of our actions online so that a company, any company, can tell us what to buy or how to think because we may have purchased Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol from because we checked the ILL waiting list and were like number 278 in line…and we didn’t feel like waiting several months to read the tomb of mystery and fictitious controversy which every Dan Brown book brings, apparently. [/sarcasm]
Actually, I am somewhat concerned that companies can track us wherever we go and see whatever we do online….all in the name of profit. It’s not the “1984” motif that scares me…it’s the realization that people actually purchase items based on the suggestions presented by the companies…sometimes in frightening blind faith. However, the advertisement strategy must be working or they wouldn’t be doing it. What does it say about our collective psyche as a society? “Please tell us what to buy/watch/think?” Frightening.
One of my friends is a TV addict and has this thing called T-Voh (sp?) which he can use to record tv programs and play them back later. Sounds great! He was all “T-Voh is awesome!” Then, after a few days, T-Voh began making suggestions and telling him what to watch. He tried to turn off the “make suggestions” function but T-Voh wouldn’t stop. Many times it pre-recorded its suggestions allotting no free space to the programs my friend wanted to record. Way to go T-Voh.
Maybe the digitized world will become like T-Voh. A world where nothing that is suggested is what we want and where there are so many suggestions that it becomes impossible to find what we actually need. For example, I have a heart condition and may need another open heart surgery. In the digitized world, I may be looking heart surgeons but, because I have my teeth clean every year, all I find are “suggested dentists in my area”. How the bleep does that help me T-Voh? ;)
Kidding aside, it is for us to decide scenario would make the world a better place? Which is more likely to become the reality? With luck, those two questions have the same answers.
My favorite post this semester was Daniel’s Ban Hammer Blog. I especially like the comment “I keep thinking about how it seems many people are of the opinion that if a library possessing a piece of material it also means they agree/approve of said piece of material.” I am also a fan of the picture. It reminds me of a D&D character I played once…I realize that this may not be the most “academic” of comments, but it is the one truest to my personality. GEEKS UNITE!!!!!
Thanks for a wonderful semester and a great finish to my grad degree!!! Good luck Everyone!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Come on, Librarians!

I am continually frustrated by the lack of librarian involvement in policy issues. It's our own fault. Even our cataloging tools are only designed for the physical. MARC can't be used effectively for organizing the giant abyss of information online. Yet, shouldn't we be taking steps to get involved in the online world of information? Seriously, why aren't we?

After reading Andrejevic's article I was even more frustrated. Alcibiades mentions that advertising is no big deal. I don't agree. :) I really think Andrejevic's telling us it's more than that. That's just the beginning. As the article mentions, we are using forms of communication willingly, yet we are unaware of what they are doing with our data. Now that we can be tracked with network access points, they can really start to use layers of information to find trends and analyze our next move. I don't want to be monitored, nor do I think it's okay that I am neither aware or have the option to become involved in this data collection. It's a violation of my basic right to privacy, and it really bothers me. Andrejevic mentions how this will work in the very near future (if not already): "We can access the data we have turned over to them (Google, Microsoft, you name it), but only in exchange for willing submission to, among other conditions, the forms of monitoring and control facilitated by the interactive infrastructure." (311). This really bothers me. Just because I use a particular technology out of convenience, doesn't mean I should lose my right to privacy. Plus, could you imagine telling someone fifty years ago that when they accessed information in the library there would be someone outside waiting to sell them something in relation to their inquiry? Because, that's what is happening on the web and we are just so inured to this behavior it doesn't seem like a violation anymore. (Sorry for the hyperbole, but it's not too far off.)

All that being said, it's our job as librarians to get involved, be on the front lines of information policy decisions and stand up for our patrons and ourselves. The right to privacy is important. We take a threat to privacy seriously when it is threatened at the brick and mortar library by federal agents, yet when marketers watch your every click on a library computer we just shrug it off? 

Something's not right here and we have to be willing to step in and provide guidance to policy makers on several fronts. Or we are not going to be able to stay afloat and work with policy that was decided for us -- and again, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves (because we weren't involved).  I am extremely thankful I took this course so I can get involved with these issues in the future because I am no longer ignorant to their impact on libraries and their patrons.

My favorite blog post was the post I had the most fun writing:
I'm glad I took the time to review my own policy at the library I work at, while at the same time I was able to provide a valuable resource to the rest of the class.

Thanks for a great semester everyone!

Wrapping It Up

Forgive me for waxing sentimental in this (probably) last blog post.

Thank you, Sarah and colleagues, for making me really think and question my own role in the world of information at my local level and also on a much larger scale. I wish this could've been a face-to-face class because I think the conversations would've been awesome! As a middle-ager, I have to say I am excited for the future of our profession due to the intelligence, passion, and commitment I sense from online interactions I've had with all of you.

I've found WikiLeaks absolutely riveting, and down the road, I think we'll be telling others that we were taking this class during the height of the controversy. These are strange times indeed and also pivotal on a number of fronts. An informed constituency is more important now than ever.

I think I've been most struck by the diversity of opinions during class and the nuances of meaning that class members brought to issues. I thank all of you for making me stretch my frame of reference and opinions. For me, Week 6's discussion about the ethics of access was particularly personal and important. Week 9's module on TCEs was also interesting. I've been exposed to so much that I may never have otherwise seen/read/listened to. How cool is that!

One of my favorite blog posts is Diana's from the TCE week. Hopefully, I've correctly added its link below:

Happy holidays to you all! All the best both professionally and personally, and I hope our paths cross again!

WikiLeaks Debate: A "Transparency Activist" Takes Issue with Assange; WikiLeaks

If you haven't noticed by now, the Democracy Now! program is an excellent resource for the kinds of topics and issues we've been covering in class and/or we're covering via the tracking papers. Host Amy Goodman frequently brings guests on to discuss contemporary issues such as net neutrality, media conglomeration, access to information and so on. She's been one of the go-to journalists staying on top of the WikiLeaks story, and the other day, she hosted a very interesting debate from two people. One is a "transparency activist," a person dedicated to some of the same principles WikiLeaks espouses, but who feels WikiLeaks will ultimately do more harm than good to open information principles. The other is a Constitutional scholar and writer who is in favor of WikiLeaks.

The nuances and standpoints in this debate are very interesting, and go well beyond the kind of black-and-white soundbites you might hear on network news, for example. Check it out if you have a few minutes.

Here is the link to the debate, which you can also read as a transcript on the same site.

module 14

I agree with

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh no! I've been advertised to!

Andrejevic: There are some points for concern here. As we give up control of our data in exchange for free storage, endless interconnectivity, and general convenience, we are certainly signing away a large amount of our privacy. That said, the writer has himself whipped up into such a fury over....advertising? I mean, isn’t that what his article comes down to? These companies aren’t using our information to oppress us, but to sell us stuff. And his contention that by playing video games or grocery shopping we are laboring on behalf of Google is REALLY stretching things.

First of all, let’s assume all this is true: companies like Google are tracking your spending habits, the websites you visit, and even monitoring your location via your wireless devices. Computers then take all that information, process it, and send you an advertisement. Wow. I feel so alienated from my labor. Attention: nobody is forcing you to buy that product! It’s a suggestion, an enticement, not a gun to your head. Andrejevic makes it seem as if we are mindless cattle who will respond to whatever ads we receive. He goes so overboard, it’s hard to take him seriously. While all this is certainly a developing issue for our current age, and one that deserves a national dialogue, he needs to present the threat better. People won't be motivated by receiving advertisements. And what is his proposed solution? Municipal wi-fi networks? That seems like a pretty small response to the EXTREME privacy threat he perceives. And it ignores the fact that people are more and more liable to access the internet from their mobile devices, which would still be under the constraints of that encroaching cloud, the “prison” he fears.

OK, I could go on and on ripping Andrejevic. But better to use this as a chance to reflect on the broader issue of information privacy. We are facing an unprecedented situation, and we do need to start thinking about the implications of allowing companies like Google and Microsoft to control our data. This, as I said above, requires a national dialogue. How many people are aware that these companies are tracking all that information? Some, certainly. Most won’t care, because the trade off is real convenience and (let’s face it) some pretty cool technology. But there is a significant segment of America’s population that is very protective of its privacy. How can we present the threat in a way that will mobilize this segment into action? In my opinion, Andrejevic needs to reconfigure his message in a way that will resonate with the public. Continually invoking Karl Marx, and making vague references to the enclosure of the English commons is probably not the best strategy in this country. Just saying.

My reflections on the course lead me to this conclusion: it is up to us to find a means and a message to more effectively communicate the potential danger to the American public. We are the ones equipped with the knowledge of what Google is doing, and what the implications are for privacy and liberty. We are the ones who must work to lobby congress and other governing institutions to ensure our constitutionally protected freedoms are not imperiled by the corporate machinery. To do so, we must investigate the potential dangers, beyond just targeted advertisements. I think we all have a vague idea about what those dangers are, but let’s put some real effort into formulating a concrete message to deliver to the public. We must draft serious policy. We must work with Google and Microsoft to find common ground. These corporations are not totally evil: Google has been involved in a recent dispute with China over censorship, and Microsoft’s founder is one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. It’s too simplistic to paint these companies as unstoppable forces of evil out to enslave us.

I feel as if I could go on and on, but blog posts are supposed to be short and sweet. I have enjoyed this course tremendously, especially the opportunity to engage the rest of you on this blog. Rather than fulfilling Sarah’s request to link to a favorite post of mine, I am instead linking to a post by Tecumseh. This one really connected with me at the time and still gives me chills.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Amazon Issues Statement on WikiLeaks

"Late on Thursday, after refusing to comment for more than 24 hours, Amazon issued a statement explaining why it stopped hosting the Web site after getting a phone call from Sen. Joe Lieberman's office...Responding on Twitter, James Ball a journalist and WikiLeaks volunteer,called the statement "disingenuous," and noted that when Amazon decided to stop hosting the site, it had published just 300 cables, all of which had been redacted by news organizations, like The Times and the Guardian, which had discussed them in detail with the U.S. government."

Amazon's own statement is reproduced below:

"There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate.

There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate. There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against.

Amazon's Web Statement

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.

We’ve been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that’s perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.

We look forward to continuing to serve our AWS customers and are excited about several new things we have coming your way in the next few months.
— Amazon Web Services"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Daily Show: WikiLeaks

Here's a clip from the Daily Show about WikiLeaks, be warned: it's a bit cruder than normal.

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